Expert Guide to Tulum: Where to Eat, Sleep, Drink, Beach, and More

Tulum is no longer a secret — but it doesn’t take an expert to know that. What was once the land of no-frills beach huts tucked along pristine white-sand beaches is now a full-blown vacation destination. Has Tulum changed? Yes. Is that entirely bad? No. But knowing how to have the best vacation in Tulum can take a bit of planning. Over the years, we’ve traversed the coast in and around Tulum dozens of times. With that in mind, we’re compiling our most important tips on everything from when to go to Tulum to its best restaurants, hotels, and more. Read on to plan your perfect Tulum vacation.

If you're after other Riviera Maya vacation ideas, check out our detailed breakdown of the region here

Additional reporting by Katherine Alex Beaven. 

What’s Tulum Like These Days?

As we’ve already told you, present-day Tulum bears little resemblance to the Tulum of yore. Yes, there are still neo-hippie, Burner, beach-bum vibes here, but the town far more polished and high-end than it once was. 

Prices aside, you’ll also find that the days of intermittent electricity and lacking Wi-Fi are gone (though, occasionally both of these do still cut out). Up and down the town’s main road in the hotel zone you’ll find boutique-hotels of all shapes and sizes, seemingly swallowed up by the jungle and opening onto the beach. 

Likewise, boutiques sling everything from Coachella-ready hats to locally handmade designer threads — all with incredibly high price tags. Acai bowls, organic coffee, and foodie haunts are all packed into Tulum as well, and — yes — you will need reservations to eat at the hottest restaurants. 

You can even get a proper workout in at the Tulum Jungle Gym, Here, you lift like the cavemen may have: tree trunks are carved into free weights, while baskets of rocks and hemp ropes create pulley machines. It’s highly Instagrammable — like everything in Tulum — but also provides an excellent workout. 

Where is Tulum?

Situated right on the Caribbean Sea, Tulum is a two-hour drive south of Cancun. Most travelers opt for a long-distance taxi or airport shuttle to reach town, then bike or walk once you’re here. Renting a car is appealing, as it lets you explore the surrounding Riviera Maya on your own, but be warned that parking in Tulum’s Hotel Zone is a nightmare. Some properties have a few spaces reserved for guests, but the main road itself is essentially a no-parking zone (especially as infrastructure is being buried under the road, causing construction with no end in sight as of late 2019).

Navigational inconveniences aside, Tulum is well located for seeing the major sights of the Riviera Maya. Day trips to the marine playground of Xel-Ha, the climbable ruins of Coba, and the beach-party hub of Playa del Carmen are all relatively easy (under an hour or so by taxi). You can also head south — away from the man-made world — into the Si’an Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. There, kayak among the mangroves or stroll the untouched beaches looking for birds and other wildlife. 

If you don’t feel like leaving town, the Tulum Ruins are situated at the northern end of the Hotel Zone and make for envy-inducing photos. The cliffs, ruins, neon water, and white sand all come together in a pinch-yourself vision. Cenotes are also found throughout this region, and plenty of outfitters in town run excursions to the most famous (and, sometimes, the hidden ones).

The Best Time to Go to Tulum:

Like most of the tropics, Tulum’s temperatures are relatively steady throughout the year. However, drastic differences in humidity and rainfall do make a big difference in your experience. Tulum’s dry season is from December through early June. At this time of year, skies are often cloudless and rain showers are relatively infrequent. Late June through November means rain and incredibly high humidity. Showers are rarely an all-day affair, though, so visits at this time of year are still pleasant.

Keep in mind that Tulum is packed from late December through early January, and then again around Valentine’s Day, the winter long weekends in the U.S., and during spring break and Easter. Visiting at these times means sky-high hotel rates, tons of traffic, and less peace and quiet. Visiting in early December or May are both good options, as the weather is warm and sunny, but crowds are far fewer.

Visiting Tulum during the rainy season means lower hotel rates, though you’ll have to deal with the threat of showers in the afternoon. Additionally, seaweed blooms tend to be worse during the summer months. Hurricanes are also a risk, especially after August. 

The Best Beaches in Tulum:

Tulum’s beach essentially runs from the Tulum Ruins to Si’an Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. There are a few rocky parts where you can’t swim (and some hotels sit on those areas). Even so, Tulum does have a lot of sandy real estate — and much of it remains calm for most of the year. However, some beach areas are more crowded than others. 

Playa Ruinas

Playa Ruinas

Playa Ruinas/Oyster

If you’re after that one Instagramable shot on your Tulum vacation, Playa Ruinas is your go-to beach. Why is that? Well, as the name suggests, this beach sits below the dramatic cliffs of the Tulum Ruins, crowned by the Mayan structures that loom overhead. You’ll have to navigate a steep set of wooden steps from the clifftop to the sand, and once at the bottom you should expect lots of people. Playa Ruinas is only accessible from the ruins’ historical site, so you’ll have to pay to enter the ruins in order to reach it.

Playa Paraiso

Playa Paraiso beach

Playa Paraiso/Oyster

Just south of the Tulum Ruins is Playa Paraiso (next to equally pretty Playa Pescadores). This wide and long stretch of sand is separated from the most crowded parts of Tulum’s Hotel Zone by a rocky outcropping. There are several casual beach restaurants here and beach clubs where you can pay for loungers. It’s busy, but because it’s much larger than Playa Ruinas you won’t feel nearly as crowded. There are also almost no hotels directly on Playa Paraiso, though parking around it is scarce and only available on the main road.

Hotel Zone Beach

Hotel Zone beach

Hotel Zone beach/Oyster

While this isn’t an official name the beach along the southern part of the Hotel Zone essentially runs from Las Palmas Public Beach to the south. There are some spots where the main road takes the place of the beach, and several spots that are too rocky for swimming. You’d do best to stick to the shoreline from the Maya Tulum Retreat & Spa south. From there, all manner of hotels, restaurants, beach bars, and even a few beach clubs occupy the jungle from one end to the other. Keep in mind that there are no real access points to the beach, and you’ll likely have to cut through a hotel to reach it. Additionally, expect to pay a hefty fee (often a minimum food and beverage purchase) to score loungers at the beach clubs up and down the coast.

Is There A More Local Part of Tulum? Yes — Tulum Pueblo

Tulum’s organic-yoga-hipster-party crowd sound like a bit too much for you? You’d do well to head inland and spend some time in Tulum Pueblo. The town is undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years, and will feel more like Mexico than the Hotel Zone. Every year new cool bars, restaurants, and shops are popping up in the Pueblo. You’ll also find far cheaper hotel rates here. Keep in mind that you’re far from the beach here and will have to rely on taxis or bikes to reach the shoreline. But if you’re looking to mix with locals and sample more authentic Mexican fare, the town center is your spot. 

Tulum Hotels for Every Type of Traveler:

Gone are the days of unplugged, Wi-Fi-less beach huts in Tulum. Almost every option in the town is now on the high-end side, and there are several upscale and luxury options to choose from as well. Keep in mind, though, that Tulum very much remains an adult playground. While some hotels do welcome children, they are rare, and features catering to kids are limited in the extreme even at those properties. 

Your Tulum Yoga Retreat: Amansala Yoga & Wellness Resort

Beach at the Amansala Eco-Chic Resort + Retreat

If you’re coming to Tulum to unwind with organic juice, healthy food, and lots of yoga, then this is your spot. Situated right on the beach, Amansala Tulum has several beautiful yoga shalas, especially the venue for its morning yoga classes with views to the sea. Multi-day retreats and bootcamps are available.

Your Upscale Tulum Hotel: The Beach Tulum

When it comes to services and amenities, The Beach Tulum is right up there with some of the Riviera Maya’s nicest boutique properties. Every room overlooks the beach and has either a plunge pool or a private rooftop hot tub. Great on-site dining is available at two restaurants, and you’ll find free morning yoga classes, plus activities like mezcal tasting and ceviche classes.

Your Romantic Tulum Hotel: Le Valise

The Master Suite at the La Valise Tulum

If you’re in Tulum and hoping for a romantic getaway, it doesn’t get much more perfect than Le Valise. The hotel feels utterly separate from the rest of the Hotel Zone, seemingly walled-off as it is by lush jungle. You won’t hear any DJs or drunk beachgoers here, and the rooms are impeccably styled. We love its sequestered, intimate vibe, which is getting harder and harder to find in Tulum.

Your Tulum Family Hotel: Cabanas La Luna

The Zanzibar Villa at the Cabanas La Luna

When we say family-friendly in Tulum, we aren’t talking kids’ clubs and jungle gyms. In Tulum, simply allowing kids makes a hotel family-friendly. However, Cabanas La Luna is great for families with kids for a few reasons. There are several rooms here that offer multiple beds and sleeping areas, and the vibe is relaxed. What’s more? What kid doesn’t love a pool, and Cabanas La Luna has one of the nicest in town.

Your Tulum Party Hotel: Be Tulum

The Pool at the Be Tulum Hotel

To be fair, many of the hotels in Tulum are lively in high season. But Be Tulum is one of the more famous (and one of the nicest) that fall in the see-and-be-seen category of Tulum hotels. Chic modern style, a destination dining and drinking scene, beach club, and great spa all round out the amenities here.

Your Nude Tulum Hotel: Azulik Hotel & Maya Spa

Kin Toh at the Azulik

Really this is the only place where clothing is optional in Tulum. The rustic Azulik Tulum has thatched-roof huts and minimal electricity and Wi-Fi; it’s an ideal spot to undress and unplug.

Your Tulum Budget Hotel: Nueva Vida de Ramiro 

Hechizo de Luna Honeymoon Suite

Nueva Vida de Ramiro has a relatively decent price tag for the Tulum strip, that has a big, gorgeous stretch of beach. Rooms are rustic and the hotel is mostly solar powered. It’s a popular pick with the younger backpacker crowd.

Your Tulum Pueblo Hotel: Posada Yum Kin

Grounds at the Posada Yum Kin

Looking for a bit of local flavor? The family-owned Posada Yum Kin is at the end of a residential road in town. It has large rooms, kitchens, leafy grounds, rooftop spa treatments, and a small pool with food and drink service.

The Best Tulum Parties and Bars:

These days, Tulum is a party paradise. While it’s less rowdy than Playa del Carmen or Cancun, there is definitely a nighttime scene here — and it changes every night. As of early 2020, there is essentially a party every night of the week, though the location changes. Check with your hotel on the current offerings. Below are some of the more popular parties in town, most of which have been longer running.

Weeknights in Tulum Pueblo at Batey

Anyone who has been will tell you that you cannot skip a sweet, fresh-pressed sugarcane mojito from Batey. Located on Calle Centauro Sur, you can’t miss the classic VW Beetle transformed into a one-man sugarcane juicing hut. The place buzzes until late, and often has live music. 

Thursday Night Jungle Party at Casa Jaguar

The Casa Jaguar Jungle Party is one of the most famous events in town — and it just so happens to kick-start the Tulum weekend. Here, DJs spin under the stars in the impeccably stylish bar and restaurant. 

Friday Nights at Gitano

Gitano is also open for dinner, but we recommend skipping that and heading here after 11 PM for  DJs and great cocktails — mezcal is the specialty. 

Saturday Nights at Papaya Playa Project

The original Tulum party — and its most infamous — Saturday nights at Papaya Playa Project is Tulum at its most hedonistic. Expect everything from Full Moon Parties to international DJs, all with a healthy dash of Burning Man ethos and aesthetics. 

Where to Eat in Tulum:

One of the things we love about Tulum is the unexpected variety of quality eats — from traditional Mexican ceviches and tacos to gourmet farm-to-table fare. Keep in mind that prices — especially in the Hotel Zone — are going to be far higher than in other Mexico destinations. In fact, meals at some of the more high-end restaurants are on par with what you’d pay in New York City. 

Best Quick Lunch in Tulum: Acatiki Tulum

If you don’t want to spend a fortune to eat on the beach — or fight for a table — you’d do well to grab one of the porch spots at Acatiki Tulum. Here, the owner and staff whip up excellent healthy-but-indulgent fare. Expect to find everything from delicious acai bowls and toasts to grain bowls and smoothies. The restaurant is also open in the evenings. 

Best Tacos in Tulum (On the Beach): Taqueria La Eufemia

While you’ll find the locals-only taco joints in Tulu Pueblo, if you need authentic tacos on the beach, you’d do best to head to Taqueria La Eufemia. This charming little spot slings of seafood tacos and plenty of meat and veggie options as well. It’s bustling all day, though you’ll get more for your money here than at other Tulum beachside spots. 

Best Beach Dinner in Tulum: Loyal Order Tulum

Turkish fare in a dining room that looks like a palapa by way of the Middle East sound good to you? Then head to this sceney spot in the northern Tulum Hotel Zone. Food scores high marks for its inventiveness, and cocktails make it even more appealing.

Best Foodie Meal in Tulum: Arca

While the best foodie spot in Tulum has many contenders (including the entry, below), we think Arca is the winner. The chef here hails from the much-lauded Noma in Copenhagen (arguably the most famous and well-reviewed restaurant on the planet). However, friendly service, mind-blowingly tasty meals, a shrouded jungle setting, and a lively-yet-laid-back vibe all make this the right choice (for carnivores, pescatarians, and vegetarians alike).

Best Farm-to-Table Meal in Tulum: Hartwood

If you’re heading to Tulum you will hear about Hartwood. This farm-to-table restaurant essentially cemented Tulum on the international dining circuit. The meat and fish-heavy menu changes every day, and if you don’t have a reservation, you can expect to wait for hours. What’s the reward? Inventive, yet down-to-earth plates, a buzzing scene, and some of the best cocktails in the city.

Best Seafood Restaurant in Tulum Pueblo: El Camello, Jr. 

A typical rule of thumb is that if tons of locals are eating somewhere, it’s got to be good. El Camello, Jr. is famous for having some of the freshest fish in town. Come hungry and order big because you’ll want to try one of their massive seafood cocktails — served in a cocktail glass, stuffed to the brim with eats like shrimp, octopus, and whole fried fish — and don’t skip on the octopus with garlic, it’s some of the best you’ll ever have.

Best Secret Locals-Only Restaurant in Tulum: Chamico’s 

When a receptionist told us about a “secret” spot that serves the area’s best ceviche and whole-fried fish right on the beach, we had to try it. It’s about a 15-minute drive outside of town off Soliman Bay, down a few winding roads, directly on the sand, and completely incognito. In fact, you’re likely to see a bunch of locals resting on hammocks, playing soccer on the beach, and sitting at tables with their families. The entire operation is run out of a small hut where servers cut limes, assemble the lobster ceviche, and send fish right out back to the fry station. Here, woodfire stoves sizzle with pans of whole, fresh-caught snapper.

What to Pack for Tulum:

Unlike the all-inclusive resorts of the Riviera Maya, you’ll rarely find a dress code in Tulum. It’s a casual place, really. However, that doesn’t mean that you should slum it — this isn’t the backpacker wonderland it once was. In fact, many of the town’s restaurants have plenty of gloss and you’ll likely want to up your style game in the evenings. 

Bathing Suits (yes, plural)

Halter One-Piece Swimsuit

Racerback One-Piece Swimsuit

Riviera Swim Trunks

Vintage Check Swim Trunks

As you’ll be spending a significant amount of time at the beach, you’ll need some swimsuit options. Style variety aside, having two swimsuits allows one to always be dry in the morning before you head out to the sand.

Yoga Gear

Align Crop Yoga Pants

The Reversible Mat

While Tulum has changed a lot in the past two decades, one thing hasn’t: The town’s affinity for yoga. From full-blown yoga retreats to teacher trainings and drop-in classes, there are countless options for practice here. Definitely bring some comfortable, hot-weather yoga gear in your luggage.

Classic Sunglasses

Aviator Classics

It may sound like a no-brainer, but sunglasses are a must in Tulum. The latitude here means that the sun is punishing year-round. Do your eyes a favor and keep them protected. Opt for a classic pair that fits with casual and beach-chic styles, like these Ray-Ban aviators.

A Boho Sarong

Sarong

You’ll want to have an easy beach-to-lunch cover-up on hand when it’s time to dip into one of the many beautiful options along Tulum’s coast. We think a muted print or bohemian crocheted option make the best bet.

Beach-Chic Evening Wear

Unbutton Down Shirt

Floral Print Maxi Skirt

Brushed Cashmere Cardigan

Like we said, you won’t need to don collars or closed-toe shoes for a night-out in Tulum. But in the dry season it can get chilly and breezy at night. Opt for a skirt and light cardigan combo for a night out if you’re a woman, or a loose-fitting linen button-up for the gents. 

Tip: If you forget anything, you can always make a trip to Chedraui, Tulum’s Wal-Mart-like mega-store that’s situated on the road between the Hotel Zone and Tulum Pueblo. There are also pharmacies in Tulum’s Hotel Zone, as well as several shops selling sundries.

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